Skip to content
Candrone logoCandrone logo
Wheat Farming: Harnessing Drones for Water Stress Monitoring

Wheat Farming: Harnessing Drones for Water Stress Monitoring


Global drylands, covering about 41% of Earth’s surface and inhabited by 38% of the world’s population, are facing the stark challenges of water scarcity, low water productivity, and food insecurity.

As global food demand rises amidst limited water resources, effective irrigation scheduling becomes paramount, especially in regions facing water stress. Detecting plant water stress throughout the growing season is essential to mitigate physiological damage and yield loss.

In the world of agriculture, where the delicate balance between maximizing crop yields and conserving precious resources like water is paramount, technological advancements play a pivotal role. Wheat, one of the most widely cultivated crops globally, faces significant challenges from climate change-induced water stress. However, with the emergence of innovative solutions like the utilization of drones for monitoring water stress indices, offer a promising solution, leveraging visible and near-infrared spectral regions for high-resolution monitoring at a low cost and rapid pace.

Understanding Water Stress in Wheat Farming

Water stress is a critical factor affecting wheat production, especially in regions prone to erratic rainfall patterns or facing water scarcity issues. When wheat plants experience water stress, their growth is hindered, leading to reduced yields and compromised grain quality. Traditionally, farmers relied on manual observation methods or satellite imagery to assess crop health and identify areas of water stress. However, these methods often lacked the precision and timeliness required for effective decision-making.


Image source: 4292/13/20/4155?type=check_update&version=1

Enter Drones: Transforming Agriculture from the Skies

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), have emerged as game-changers in modern agriculture. Equipped with advanced sensors and imaging technology, drones offer farmers unprecedented capabilities for monitoring crop health and detecting early signs of water stress. By flying over wheat fields at predetermined intervals, drones can capture high-resolution imagery and collect vital data related to plant health, moisture levels, and stress indices.

Traditional methods of estimating Crop Water Stress Index (CWSI), particularly through manual or continuous point measurements of canopy temperature (Tc), are labor-intensive and impractical for monitoring large agricultural areas. Additionally, spatial variability in water stress within fields presents a challenge due to heterogeneous biophysical conditions. To address this, researchers have turned to UAV remote-sensing systems to generate CWSI maps, allowing for the assessment of spatial variability in water stress across a variety of crops. While current UAV-mounted thermal infrared sensors face limitations such as unstable temperature acquisition and low precision, multispectral remote-sensing systems offer stable information acquisition and mature mosaic technology, providing a promising solution for obtaining CWSI maps with high spatial-temporal resolution at the field scale.


Real-World Applications

One prominent example of the use of drones in wheat farming comes from the heartland of agriculture, the United States. In states like Kansas and North Dakota, where wheat cultivation is a significant economic activity, farmers have embraced drone technology to optimize water usage and enhance crop yields. By deploying drones equipped with multispectral cameras, farmers can obtain detailed insights into the water stress levels of their wheat fields. These insights enable them to precisely tailor irrigation schedules, ensuring that crops receive adequate moisture without wastage.

The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Applied Wheat Genomics, led by wheat scientist Jesse Poland at Kansas State University, is advancing global wheat genetics to develop improved varieties for Kansas and beyond. By conducting fieldwork in countries like India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh during their winter seasons, Poland's team accelerates research cycles and innovation. One of their key technologies involves using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, equipped with sophisticated cameras to gather essential data from wheat fields efficiently.

These drones capture information like plant height and vegetation index, which can indicate stress levels and disease presence. This high-throughput phenotyping technique, aided by artificial intelligence, allows rapid analysis and comparison of thousands of wheat varieties to identify those with superior yield, heat tolerance, and disease resistance. This innovative approach not only benefits wheat production in developed countries but also contributes to global food security, addressing the needs of populations expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. By collaborating with international partners like CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center), the lab aims to enhance agricultural productivity and support food-insecure regions worldwide.




Relating this back to monitoring water stress levels in wheat crops, the use of UAVs with advanced imaging technology described in the article can also be applied to assess water stress. By analyzing changes in vegetation indices and near-infrared reflectance, researchers can infer plant health and stress levels, which are influenced by water availability. This approach could enhance precision agriculture practices, aiding in the development of drought-resistant wheat varieties tailored for varying water conditions globally.

A Clemson University irrigation specialist has found using soil moisture sensors in fields can increase average net income by almost 20%.



The Future of Wheat Farming: Towards Sustainable Precision Agriculture

As climate change continues to exert pressure on agricultural systems worldwide, the adoption of innovative technologies like drones becomes increasingly imperative. The ability to monitor water stress levels in wheat crops with unparalleled precision not only enhances productivity but also promotes sustainability by minimizing resource wastage. As drone technology advances and becomes more accessible, its integration into farming practices holds the promise of revolutionizing the way we cultivate crops.

The marriage of wheat farming with drone technology represents a marriage of necessity and innovation. By harnessing the power of drones for water stress monitoring, farmers can navigate the challenges posed by climate change and ensure a more secure and sustainable future for wheat cultivation. As we stand on the brink of a technological revolution in agriculture, the sky is no longer the limit - it's the starting point for a new era of precision farming.


Picture Source:

Reach out to learn more about the integration of UAV’s, and the drones that our Agriculture Specialist would recommend to you:

For agricultural surveillance tasks, particularly monitoring water stress indices in wheat fields, the Altum-PT Multispectral Kit, DJI M350 RTK, DJI Mavic 3M Multispectral, and DJI Agras T40 drones from Candrone are highly recommended due to their advanced capabilities and compatibility with agricultural applications.

Here are some reasons why the DJI Matrice 350 RTK is well-suited for this purpose:

  • Payload Capacity: The M300 RTK has a high payload capacity, allowing it to carry multiple sensors simultaneously. This capability is essential for integrating multispectral cameras or other specialized agricultural sensors required for monitoring water stress in wheat crops.
  • Flight Time: e: With a maximum flight time of up to 55 minutes (depending on payload and environmental conditions), the M300 RTK offers extended operational endurance. This allows for more extensive coverage of wheat fields in a single flight session, minimizing downtime for battery swaps.
  • High-Resolution Imaging: The M300 RTK supports various camera payloads, including the Zenmuse H20 series, which offers advanced imaging capabilities such as a 20MP zoom camera, a 12MP wide-angle camera, and a laser rangefinder. These high-resolution cameras can capture detailed imagery of wheat fields, enabling precise monitoring of water stress levels.
  • Autonomous Flight Features: The M300 RTK is equipped with advanced autonomous flight capabilities, including AI-driven obstacle avoidance, intelligent flight modes, and waypoint navigation. These features streamline mission planning and execution, allowing farmers to conduct surveillance missions with minimal manual intervention.
  • Durability and Reliability: Built to withstand demanding environmental conditions, the M300 RTK boasts a rugged design and weather-resistant construction. Its redundant propulsion and battery systems enhance reliability, ensuring uninterrupted operation even in challenging agricultural settings.
  • Data Transmission and Processing: The M300 RTK supports real-time data transmission via DJI's OcuSync Enterprise technology, enabling farmers to monitor crop health and water stress levels in real-time. Additionally, the drone's onboard SDK and processing capabilities facilitate in-flight data analysis, providing immediate insights for informed decision-making.

Altum-PT Multispectral Kit: 

  • High-Resolution Imaging: Utilizes a 12 MP panchromatic sensor for detailed leaf-level crop health insights.
  • Thermal Sensing: Thermal sensor for detecting crop temperature variations indicative of water stress.
  • Multispectral Analysis: Five spectral bands (blue, green, red, red edge, and near-IR) ideal for detailed vegetation analysis and irrigation monitoring.

DJI Mavic 3M Multispectral:

  • Dual Camera System: Combines a 20MP RGB camera with multispectral cameras for comprehensive crop growth scanning.
  • Sunlight Sensor: Captures solar irradiance, ensuring accurate and consistent NDVI results for monitoring vegetation health.
  • Efficient Coverage: Capable of covering up to 200 hectares per flight, making it ideal for large-scale monitoring.

DJI Agras T40:

  • High Payload Capacity: Carries up to 40 kg of spray or 50 kg of spread load, facilitating efficient water and nutrient application.
  • Advanced Navigation and Mapping: Features DJI Terra for precise mapping, aiding in accurate area targeting for water stress interventions.
  • Robust Design: Suitable for complex agricultural environments, ensuring durability and effectiveness in diverse conditions.

To find out which of these drone solutions best meets your specific requirements, reach out to our drone experts and setup a consultation by sending us an email at



Get in Touch!

Speak to our experts about Wheat Farming: Harnessing Drones for Water Stress Monitoring

Contact Us
Cart 0

Your cart is currently empty.

Start Shopping